Herald-Leader Editorial

Fighting the good fight to protect residents, not nursing homes.

Senator battled nursing-home bill

February 15, 2013 

Sen. Ray Jones noted toward the end of his long assault on Senate Bill 9 on the Senate floor Wednesday that he was fighting a lost cause, but the silver lining is that in the House the measure will be, "as dead as a hammer."

That is pretty much the best thing you can say for this measure, which would make it harder for people to bring lawsuits charging neglect or abuse in nursing homes in Kentucky.

It passed the Senate 23 to 12.

Jones, D-Pikeville, did a good job laying out the opposition case, carefully destroying each strand in the web of misinformation, diversion and fear-mongering that the industry and its supporters spun.

The bill would require people who want to sue nursing homes to first submit their claims to medical panels that would decide if the claims have merit, rulings that would be admissible in court. Regardless of the ruling, plaintiffs would still be able to sue.

No surprise, the primary argument in favor of this is to protect the beleaguered industry from frivolous lawsuits that drain funds which would otherwise be devoted to patient care.

Couldn't the same be said about the hundreds of thousands the industry has invested in lobbying and lobbyists and campaign contributions to pursue its legislative ends?

"This is nothing more than an industry spending indiscriminately to shield its bad behavior," Jones said.

It's clear where the financial heft lies and it doesn't take a keen analysis to figure out who is likely to benefit when another hearing, involving complex evidence, is added into the process: the company with extensive assets, and doctors and lawyers on staff, or the individual family that believes its loved one was mistreated?

The supporters also tried diversion, assailing Jones and other opponents for unfairly maligning hard- working nursing home employees who take care of frail seniors.

Nary a word was spoken about the generous compensation for executives, profits and returns to shareholders and investors. No one talking so movingly about frontline workers said a word about bills to require staffing levels, a measure that would both improve care and relieve workers, that have repeatedly failed in Frankfort.

In fact, they didn't want to talk much at all. Jones proposed several amendments to the bill but they were ruled out of order and never discussed.

On the floor he wanted to question the bill's sponsor, Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, but she declined to respond.

It's a mystery why the Republican-controlled Senate supported this unnecessary expansion of bureaucracy. Here's hoping Jones is right and the Democratic House will rein in this big-government measure.

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